|The Maverick just completed its maiden voyage last Friday. // All photos courtesy Balearia|
While pioneers of the 1800s shouted “California or Bust,” when crossing the Great Divide and the Rockies to reach new horizons, today’s adventurers might just as easily envision a tropical drink, beach chair or azure waters and utter, “Bimini or Bust.”
Simply put, laid-back, low-key Bimini, the closest island group in the Bahamas to South Florida, is now just a high-speed ferry ride away. Yet, it seems a million miles away in mindset from Miami's cosmopolitan hustle bustle.
Last Friday, the Balearia Bahamas Express completed its maiden voyage on The Maverick from Miami to Bimini. The new route operates each day from Miami – 2.5 hours each way to and from Bimini.
That leaves daytrippers four hours to explore the island or to just kick back relax on a tropical beach with drink in hand. For a more robust getaway in this paradise for sun, surf, diving and fishing, ferry passengers might stay at a local resort or hotel and return a day or more later.
Ferry to Bimini
Travel Agent chatted with Pablo Aviles, the ferry’s commercial representative in the U.S., late Friday about the new route to Bimini: “Passengers on our Bimini line are pampered on a smaller ship [than the line's other ferries] with a capacity of 358 passengers divided in two sections,” Aviles said.
“First Class holds 84 passengers, and Economy holds 274 passengers,” according to Aviles, who described the vessel as a modern, catamaran-style ship with an onboard cafeteria that offers cold snacks for purchase.
Guests make the crossing in aircraft-style seating and have views from large windows. First class, located on the top deck, offers leather seats and priority boarding as well as disembarking.
The ferry – 131 feet in length and 31 feet across the beam - leaves PortMiami daily at 9 a.m. and arrives in at Government Dock in Bimini by noon.
Passengers then depart Bimini at 5 p.m. and arrive back in Miami around 8 p.m. The vessel’s top speed is about 30 knots or just under 35 miles per hour.
Clients desire a longer stay? The Bimini Big Game Club (www.biggameclubbimini.com) is one option in historic Alice Town. The Bimini Bay Resort (www.biminibayresort.com) on North Bimini boasts Bahamian-style architecture, pastel colors, beaches and water sports. Bimini Sands Resort & Marina (www.biminisands.com) is home to Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center, newly opened in January 2013.
The center’s 40-foot custom dive boat carries 30 divers, offers new Oceanic dive equipment rentals and a commercial compressor for tank refills, and has the only Nitrox fill station in the Bimini Islands.
A five-night resort package at Bimini Sands Resort & Marina is available through March 31, 2013. Priced at $145 per person, based on double occupancy, it includes villa accommodations, chef-styled island fare, drinks and one complimentary resort activity.
|The interior of the ferries features airplane-style seating.|
While the name Balearia isn’t well known to most Americans, the company is a highly experienced European ferry operator. Balearia carried three million ferry passengers and massive amounts of cargo on 15 vessels last year.
Balearia is the only ferry operator in Spain with an operation that connects the four Balearic Islands to mainland Spain, as well as providing daily sailings between them. The company also currently operates in the Strait of Gibraltar.
In the U.S., Balearia's first ferry route, begun in 2012, sails daily between Port Everglades, FL, and Grand Bahama Island, Passengers sail on the 443-passenger Pinar del Rio – with 75 travelers in first class and 368 in economy class.
The first class section features priority boarding and disembarking, large, wide airplane style seats that recline 75 degrees and two 52" television screens; movies are shown throughout the crossings.
Pinar del Rio also has an onboard cafeteria for snack purchases, a full service bar, a duty free shop, 29 multi-denomination slot machines, and free Wi-Fi service (when available based on location).
Balearia will provide agents with access codes so they may log into the company’s Web site and make reservations for either of the Bahamas routes with special industry rates.
Generally, the ferry company needs a brief description of the agency, what the main target market is and whether the agency conducts business on a B2B or a B2C basis.
It will also ask for agency or company name, mailing address, telephone number, fax number, contact person’s name, e-mail for confirmations, tax ID (or government issued number), method of payment – either client’s credit card or corporate credit card, and choice of renumeration – commissionable or net.
If agents opt for commission, it's 10 percent to retail travel agencies, according to Aviles. Interested agents with questions may contact Aviles at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 786-280-6861.
“Once your account has been set up, you’ll be able to make reservations in two different ways,” Aviles says. One is by logging into www.ferryexpress.com or by calling the ferry’s call center at 866-699-6988 and identifying yourself as a travel professional and giving your client number issued upon registration.
Worldwide, Baleària has a staff of more than 1,000 employees. “Our company has always been characterized by its continuous growth,” says Aviles.
For travelers visiting South Florida, the new route is just another option for those seeking a laid-back, easy access getaway beyond U.S. borders.